A volcano is a rupture on the crust of the earth (or other planet)/moon), which allows hot lava (hot molten rock), ash, and gases to escape from below the surface. Volcanoes are not the disaster that most people think of when they think of a natural disaster. Few think that a volcanic eruption would affect them during their lifetimes, but you never know where the long and wandering road will lead you. A little knowledge about volcano safety might just be useful someday.
The study of volcanoes is called volcanology, after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. There are many accounts of volcanic eruptions throughout history, some very devastating. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed several Roman towns, including Pompeii, and killed thousands. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 in the Pacific caused a tsunami (tidal wave) that killed 36,000 people.
Most have the impression that a volcano is a conical mountain with smoke and lava spewing from the top. In actuality, volcanos have a number of forms. In Yellowstone National Park, a huge dormant supervolcano looks more like flat land than a cone. Geysers like ‘Old Faithful” are evidence that there’s still a great deal of pressure and molten rock below the surface. One doomsday scenario includes the eruption of this huge land feature, which is called a “caldera” (meaning “cauldron” or “cooking pot”). This disaster last happened 640,000 years ago, but is thought to be an event that is likely to occur again “soon”. In geologic time, “soon” means in the next 40,000 years or so.
You may think that almost all volcanos are dormant or extinct, but there are many that are active right now. In the news just in the last 2 weeks:
• Mount Ontake in Japan erupts, killing more than 50.
• Mount Sinabung in Indonesia erupts, forcing thousands to flee their homes. (16 died in an earlier eruption this year).
• The Mayon volcano in the Philippines has been erupting, causing 12,000 to evacuate to shelters.
Other volcanoes seem to be always active. Mount Kilauea in Hawaii has been spewing lava into the ocean for the last 30 years, destroying more than 200 homes and other structures. The deposition of cooling rock has added, however, 500 acres of land to the island.
If you live in a volcanically active area, there are things that you can do to avoid being a victim. Vigilance is a virtue here, so monitor volcanic activity reports and evacuate the area if authorities believe an eruption is imminent. Have a plan to get the family together and several routes out of the area. Lava flows can block your main route of exit. Thick ash can damage engine parts, so drive at slow speeds.
Be prepared for the side events that often accompany eruptions, some of which are discussed elsewhere on our website. They include:
Items for your medical storage that will be useful include masks and goggles for every member of your family; ash may fall thick and heavy, and this could make breathing and seeing difficult. Have sturdy boots, hand protection, and thick clothing that will give protection over as much of your head and body area as possible. Other supplies that are useful for those caught in an eruption include:
• Flashlights and extra batteries (it can get very dark when ash is falling)
• First aid manual, medical supplies, and medications
• food and water (fill tubs with water before ash contaminates the water system)
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
If you find yourself unable to leave your home, close all windows and doors. Block chimneys to prevent ash from getting in, and be aware that layers of ash can be so heavy as to cause a roof cave-in.
Here are websites that constantly chronicle volcanic activity:
Wishing you the best of health in good time OR bad…
Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones
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